Cleary caps play­ing ca­reer with an­other cup

Af­ter help­ing Griffins to a Calder Cup, he’s leav­ing be­hind a two-decade play­ing ca­reer and get­ting ready for ‘the next phase’ of his hockey ca­reer

The Compass - - Front page - BY BREN­DAN MCCARTHY bmcc@thetele­gram.com

Daniel Cleary’s sea­son with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL didn’t ac­tu­ally in­volve him suit­ing up for any games, but he was in full uni­form as the team cap­tured the Calder Cup last week. Af­ter 20 sea­sons of pro­fes­sional hockey, the Har­bour Grace na­tive is prepar­ing for a new role in the sport.

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — He was in his full uni­form and wore his skates. He sported a clas­sic play­off beard. And he was pretty much front and cen­tre - just a cou­ple of play­ers away from the Calder Cup - as the Grand Rapids Griffins posed for the tra­di­tional on-ice cham­pi­ons photo af­ter they won the 2017 Amer­i­can Hockey League crown Tues­day night in cen­tral Michi­gan.

But even though Daniel Cleary looked very much like the other Griffins be­side and be­hind him, per­haps no other player on the team had such a unique story.

And not just be­cause the River­head, Har­bour Grace na­tive is re­tir­ing as a player af­ter 20 sea­sons as pro­fes­sional, or that he had ap­peared his first NHL game in the fall of 1997 when Grand Rapids team­mate Evgeny Svech­nikov was less than a year old.

The big story is that Cleary was such an im­por­tant mem­ber of the team’s ros­ter with­out hav­ing ac­tu­ally played a game in 2016-17. Not in the reg­u­lar sea­son. Not in the play­offs. And even though he is ad­mit­tedly bat­tered and creaky af­ter two decades, it wasn’t be­cause of in­jury.

Nope. There has never been an exit quite like this one.

“It was dif­fer­ent, but it’s been great ex­pe­ri­ence, just awe­some, and this (the Calder Cup win) was a great way to end ca­reer,” said Cleary, who spent the en­tire sea­son as sort of an unof­fi­cial as­sis­tant coach for the Griffins, prac­tis­ing with the team reg­u­larly, but never see­ing any ice time in games.

“I could have played dur­ing the sea­son, but we had plenty of other veter­ans and I didn’t want to take away time for young play­ers. Any­way, I just felt I had al­ready played enough games.” said Cleary, who ap­peared in over 1,100 pro­fes­sional games, in­clud­ing 938 in the NHL, mostly with the Detroit Red Wings, with whom he won a Stan­ley Cup in 2008.

In­stead, the 38-year-old Cleary be­came a ready re­source and a sound­ing board for the younger Griffins.

“Mainly, I just wanted to show how to be a good pro,” he said. “But I also tried to be some­one they could talk to when they found things were go­ing a bit side­ways, and then when things were go­ing good, to help them stay in that pos­i­tive frame of mind.”

Cleary joined the Griffins the Red Wings’ farm team - in 2015-16 and played 35 games, but also be­gan as­sum­ing what be­came a full-time role this sea­son.

He’s been given par­tic­u­lar credit for the de­vel­op­ment of Griffins’ sec­ond-year for­ward Tyler Ber­tuzzi, who was named the Calder Cup MVP af­ter Grand Rapids de­feated the Syra­cuse Crunch in Game 6 of the fi­nal on home ice Tues­day.

“That was prob­a­bly the great­est feel­ing, see­ing Bert win the MVP,” said Cleary. “I don’t know if you can say I took him un­der my wing last year, but he was some­one I cer­tainly fo­cused on. He’s the nephew of a good friend of mine (former Detroit team­mate Todd Ber­tuzzi) and so I made it a point to be a friend to him and to help him where I could.

“He’s a great player and a great kid. He just burns for it out there. He made great strides as a player and it’s off to the NHL now for him.”

His team­mates’ re­spect for

It’s been good step­ping stone for the next phase of my ca­reer.

— Daniel Cleary

Cleary’s some­what un­ortho­dox role was never more ev­i­dent than im­me­di­ately af­ter the Calder Cup was pre­sented to Griffins cap­tain Nathan Paetsch by AHL pres­i­dent Dave An­drews. Cleary was the fourth player to get to hoist the tro­phy and skate with it around the ice.

“I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated that and it just helped cap off what has been a great ex­pe­ri­ence the last two years,” he said.

“It’s been good step­ping stone for the next phase of my ca­reer.’

Cleary has in­di­cated he wants to stay in the game in some ca­pac­ity. Whether that’s coach­ing, scout­ing, player de­vel­op­ment or some­thing else re­mains to be seen.

He isn’t stat­ing a pref­er­ence out­right, al­though he might have pro­vided a clue.

“It was just great to see how things work down here. It’s just a dif­fer­ent dy­namic,” he noted. “I have re­ally been plan­ning for this for a cou­ple of years and it’s been a cou­ple of years of help­ing in play­ers’ de­vel­op­ment I guess you could call it.

“I got a good feel for the play­ers in the or­ga­ni­za­tion. It’s never too old to learn and I learned a lot.”

He’s been part of the Red Wings’ or­ga­ni­za­tion since 2005 and says he would like to main­tain that sta­tus.

“I’ll speak to Ken (Detroit gen­eral man­ager Ken Hol­land) in the next lit­tle while and see what he thinks and what he wants,” said Cleary.

How­ever, he says there are op­tions out­side the Wings or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Yeah, with­out get­ting into de­tail ... yes there are,” he said.

GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS PHOTOS

Daniel Cleary might be re­tir­ing as a player, but it doesn’t mean his ca­reer in hockey is go­ing up in smoke.

The Grand Rapids Griffins, in­clud­ing New­found­land’s Daniel Cleary (sec­ond row, third from the left) cel­e­brate around the Calder Cup af­ter beat­ing the Syra­cuse Crunch to take the AHL cham­pi­onship Tues­day, June 13, in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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